Collaborative Liturgical Art


St Peters Episcopal Church,Beverly, Massachusetts

The Rev. Manuel P. Faria III, Rector

by Kendyll Hillegas

This past fall my husband Eric and I worked with a group of young adults at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Beverly, Massachusetts. We had one main goal: to explore what it means to lead lives that matter. We hammered out this goal in several different ways, by working at the church’s already-established Sunday night supper for the homeless, by getting involved collaboratively in another installation at a mental health unit at a local hospital, and by alternating our weeks of work with weeks of study and discussion. We found many common threads in each of these endeavors, but the common thread of incarnation, of Christ’s being made human and coming to us as a baby at Advent was what we decided to focus on for the capstone of our group’s time together that fall. Thus, as we began thinking and imagining what we might create in the nave, the installation became an opportunity for the tying together in an intellectual and physical way of the incarnation of Christ at Advent.

We began the project by talking about themes. Then the group discussed whether we’d do something like a mural or banner, or an abstract installation. Since many in the group had no art experience we decided to steer towards something that could be engineered, designed, and then built in collaboration.

I started designing the piece in the early fall. Once I had some sketches, I began communicating just as closely with the church leadership as I had been with the young adult group. Thus, it became a collaboration of a number of different levels. After some approval from the Rector on the sketches we decided to go forward and order fabric. Everyone in the church was very supportive as excited. As we waited for the unveiling of the piece, it seemed to even heighten the sense of anticipation for Advent, for Christ’s coming.

By October, we had the fabric and I had already completed most of the measuring, and engineering–all that remained was the assembly and installation. We also organized with the church administrator to publish a short article in the November newsletter explaining a little bit about what was going to be happening in the sanctuary in December. I think this was a really wonderful opportunity, as it truly opened up the lines of conversation, and had parishioners thinking and imagining even before the piece was installed.

The piece was installed the Saturday before Advent began, and remained up through Epiphany. The level of interaction with the piece was very exciting. Nearly every member of the congregation had something to say. I was very intentional about withholding any sort of ‘answer key’ for congregants, and I was so glad I did. Because every time someone came to me to ask, “what does it mean?” and I returned the question to them instead of answering it right away we would both be rewarded with an immensely rich conversation–doubtlessly much richer than if I had simply said, “well the red strand represents Christ, etc.”

The piece is made of satin, and chiffon, and hung with fishing wire.

On View: Liturgical Art at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Beverly MA. The Rev. Manuel P. Faria III, Rector.

About the Author, Kendyll Hillegas: I grew up loving to draw, to imagine, to plan and to act out stories. From a young age, I very much was extremely interested in the arts, but was always discouraged from pursuing them seriously. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore at Gordon College and took a Drawing 1 class, just for fun, that I finally began to see that I could integrate all those elements of drama, and beauty and the Christian story, and at that point the fact that it ‘didn’t fit’ within the bounds of a traditional sensible career only made it seem more necessary. I finally merged the art part of my life, and the normal part of my life and moved forward.

During my time at Gordon, I became very interested in exploring the intersection of art and faith. I was fortunate enough to pioneer an internship coordinating efforts between the art department, the chapel and a non-profit arts organization called CIVA. Collaboration was a key element, and I worked with other visual and non-visual artists to coordinate several large-scale projects. I have kept this love of collaboration as a key element to my liturgical work, and also an aspect of my fine art as well as I am always considering the impact/implications of how something will interact in a community.

Since entering the professional art community I have been pursuing two ends, both of which are equally important to me. One is to work with churches at the intersection of art and faith, helping them to explore ways that the visual can serve the sacred in the life of their community. The other is to continue to pursue fine arts, creating pieces that are not necessarily collaborative but nevertheless attempt to tell stories and to interact with individuals and groups.

I think this impulse to collaborate has made it especially exciting and rewarding that my husband Eric, a recently ordained Episcopal priest, has also shared an interest in the intersection of art and faith. In his pursuit of Biblical studies he has often looked through this lens, and allowed both of us many interesting conversations. This fall. he will begin work as a curate in inner city Boston.

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